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03/01/2008 - HPA heavily misrepresents SAGE report and current EMF science

In a recent letter to RT Hon Dawn Primarolo MP, Minister of State for Public Health, the HPA-RPD have badly misrepresented both the findings of the SAGE report from 2007 and the current state of EMF literature.

At the start of SAGE, all sides agreed not to enter into detailed debate about the science, but to accept the scientific evidence that already existed, giving especial emphasis to existing literature reviews. There was repeated agreement amongst SAGE Members that they would consider the implications to society for Childhood Leukaemia alone and also for Childhood Leukaemia plus any other health effects that were implicated by at least 3 properly published scientific papers. Despite this, when the first report was being written, bothindustry and the HPA refused to include proper consideration of these other effects - which if real would have much larger financial and other implications for our modern society. We therefore believe that the clearly biased and prejudiced "evidence" section should not have been included in this letter.

Inaccuracies in evidence

There are a number of unsupportable quotes in the "evidence" section of the document, a selection of which we have highlighted and commented on below:

"The evidence to date suggests that in general there are no adverse effects on the health of the population of the UK caused by exposure to ELF EMFs below the guideline levels."

"Point 1", The Evidence, page 2

This passage is really very poorly worded. Either there are no adverse effects in the literature, in which case there is no need for the words "in general", or there are adverse effects, in which case using the words "there are no adverse effects" is an inexcusable slant on the evidence. We believe that there is a good level of evidence of adverse effects on health. A good place to look for a summary of this is the recent Bioinitiative Report. The paragraph continues:

"At present there is no plausible biological mechanism to explain this excess..." (excess in childhood leukaemia)

"Point 1", The Evidence, page 2

Again, this is extremely liberal with the truth. There is now more than one biological mechanism to explain how this increase may be real - plausibility is subjective, and without giving the time and space to discuss the relative pros and cons of the mechanisms, the sentence is entirely unreasonable.

"The evidence for an association between exposure to ELF EMFs and a number of other diseases (the California position) is much weaker than that for childhood leukaemia and also lacks plausible biological support."

"Point 3", The Evidence, page 2

With the caveat that this is "the view of the HPA" or similar, this could be considered reasonable. However, stated as fact it is simply incorrect. The evidence for and EMF association with the incidence of adult leukaemia, miscarriage, brain tumours, female breast cancer, suicide, heart disease and ALS is statistically stronger that that for childhood leukamia. A paper assessing the existing data on these health problems is due out during 2008. The HPA are well aware of all this data (and of the forthcoming paper), but choose to deny or even properly debate the reality of the facts.

Again there is the usage of "plausible" to write off any proposed mechanisms for these effects. It would be easier and more accurate to write "...the current proposed biological mechanisms are unproven and need further support." but there is a trend to pick words that discredit any proposed association.


Powerwatch commentsUnder the basis of their perception of the evidence, the recommendations are in line with those in the SAGE report regarding risk of increased childhood leukaemia incidence. We hope that the main recommendation will result in a planning circular, to be issued during the life of this Government, suggesting that new houses should not be built within 60 metres of high-voltage powerlines (and vice-versa). That would, at least, be a start.

We have grave reservations about their willingness to disregard the abundance of other evidence pointing towards a number of other cancers and other health effects that, if founded, have a very serious impact on the overall health of the general public. Whilst childhood leukaemia is a tragic illness to all those that encounter it, it is fortunately still very rare - both miscarriage and depression are far more prevalent and any likelihood of an increased risk has a serious impact on society and should be addressed in this letter.

As it stands, this letter supports the SAGE first iterim report conclusions and states that certain precautionary actions may be taken by the Government and others - but prefaces this by denying the evidence to support those actions.


HPA letter pdf - View letter in full (55 KB .pdf)
DoH EMFsguidance website - Department of Health electromagnetic fields guidance site

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